Thursday, July 15, 2010

Personal Growth Experience for Sexist Jerks, reprise

A few years ago, I posed the question:

What do you do if someone you know to be a long-time sexist jerk is selected for a position of responsibility in a professional organization that directly impacts the lives of women academics, their funding, and therefore their chances of career advancement?

The context: I was upset to learn that a certain person had been given just such a job, but I felt that there was nothing I could reasonably do about it except feel anxious. The man had already been hired into his new position, and I did not feel that a "Oh by the way, he has a problem treating women (and some men) in a respectful way" note from me to the institution that hired him would do anything but show that I was an oversensitive and possibly vindictive person.

The optimists among us hoped that this position of responsibility would be a 'personal growth' experience for him, and that he would become a more mature and respectful person, as required by his new position. I had known him for >20 years and was skeptical that such a growth/maturity episode was going to occur anytime soon.

That was a few years ago, and now we know how the story turned out. This man did not experience any personal growth, and may even have gotten worse once in a position of power. He was quickly removed from all official roles that involved making decisions about research involving female investigators. His behavior towards women in his new job was apparently deemed unacceptable by the people who worked with him, and they took action to limit the damage. I was very impressed that they did this.

I would have been more impressed if he had not been hired in the first place. This man was hired based on his research record, which was very good, but his appointment to this job had shocked quite a number of people -- women and men -- who had seen him in action over the years at meetings, as a reviewer, as a colleague. It really would not have taken too much effort for his potential employers to find out more about his attitudes and methods of working with other people, an important component of his new job. His behavior in his new job was totally consistent with his mode of operation in the decades before.

And now he's moved on, I know not where.

At some point during this man's time in that particular job, he told a mutual colleague that I had always been very competitive with him, even when we were undergraduates. My apparently long-term competitiveness with him was news to me. When we first met, I didn't even know if I wanted to go to graduate school, and, if I did go to graduate school, I didn't know if I wanted to get a PhD, and even if I did get a PhD, it didn't occur to me to imagine myself at a big university (at the time, I was interested only in possibly teaching at a small liberal arts college). Competitive Sexist Jerk Guy, however, had known he wanted to be a professor at a big university since he was 2 years old. Perhaps he was projecting his own competitiveness and/or his disappointment (bitterness?) at never having the sort of career he wanted, whereas I ended up with that sort of career.

I think he's a sad person with lots of emotional problems that may be far beyond his control, but it's a lot easier for me to feel sorry for him now that he has moved on.

28 comments:

Comrade PhysioProf said...

Perhaps he was projecting his own competitiveness and/or his disappointment (bitterness?) at never having the sort of career he wanted, whereas I ended up with that sort of career.

AHAHAHAHAHAH! Ain't schadenfreude the fucking BESTEST? When I'm feeling a little down, I Google up all the pompous douchebag grad students and post-docs who acted like they owned the world 10 or 15 years ago, and look to see what fucking supply distributor they are now working for shilling fucking test tubes.

Chris said...

I wish all universities were as responsive as the one to which you refer. Some competitive sexist jerks remain in positions of responsibility for decades. It does concern me that research universities hire so many people solely on the basis of their research.

EliRabett said...

Don't feel too sorry yet, you don't know where he went.

lisa said...

1 sexist jerk down, 198908508304598345 to go.

Anonymous said...

FSP, I agree he should not have been hired in the first place.


Being a sexist jerk isn't a job disqualifier, but acting like one is. These actions aren't extra to the job, they're part OF the job. For the position you described employers should have shown due diligence.

Ms.PhD said...

What EliRabett said.

And, how many young women's careers did he ruin in the meantime?

I sympathize with your plight of "what could I do about it anyway", but I was the victim of more than one of these jerks, and at a non-responsive university.

Meanwhile I have to read idiotic articles about how it's so awful that young women aren't choosing science careers. Because they're not masochistic morons, maybe? Because at least they can still vote with their feet without having wasted their entire adult lives?

Anonymous said...

I am sitting in an industry class with young professionals from various businesses (large and small). 16 white males and 9 females. I don't know about in academics but young women are getting jobs in my industry.

Anonymous said...

to anon at 12:47...

hate to break it to you, but the world is more than 36% female, so your class is not a sign that we've all made it. And, assuming it's 100% white from your description, we have a long way to go...

Anonymous said...

I was a male student and a senior (male) professor harassed the hell out of me for thee years. I bit the dust of humiliation too many times to speak about it.

Almost the whole department took his side. I survived with the help of a few friendly faculty(one of who was a very brave junior female, I must say), and finally I had to leave.

Nobody cared about my trauma and what I went through. I suppose the situation would have been different were I a female. FSP or someone else like her, would have come up with accusations of sexism. Since I was male nobody spoke up for me. I imagine that if FSP were in my department, she would have been so immersed in the troubles of women, to realize that there are suffering males too.

I hope this goes a bit towards appeasing your sentiments on oppression against women. Men are also oppressed.

Academacule said...

Except for the early stages of a person's career, I've rarely seen promotion to a more powerful position function as a growing experience. More often, it seems to be a distilling experience.

Anonymous said...

Anon 3:19 - I am very sorry for your painful experience and lack of support. I mean that sincerely. It sounds like you might not believe this but most women would be very sympathetic to your situation. It does you no good to be so into victimhood and self-pity to make baseless accusations that someone who doesn't even know you wouldn't have helped you even if she were aware of your situation.

Kea said...

Perhaps he was projecting his own competitiveness ...

Exactly! Many of the successful white male theory physics geeks that I have known have this competitive outlook, which I guess helps them fit into the (almost 100% male) culture. To think that I never thought I was smart enough to get a PhD when I was a kid (and I was recognised as a gifted child, FFS) but that these incredibly ordinary guys had been trained to believe they were Einstein from the age of 2. What is the point in ever discussing perspective with such men? Our world simply does not exist to them.

Kea said...

What is it with all these suffering males, anyway? Sure, I believe they have suffered, just as they say. Does it compare to what women like me have been through? No, no, no. Not even remotely. Not by any stretch of human imagination.

Comrade PhysioProf said...

I hope this goes a bit towards appeasing your sentiments on oppression against women. Men are also oppressed.

Aww, poor widdle cwybaby is upset that de mean owd wadies aren't tawking about his poow widdle feewings. Cause deres no where on earth fow him to discuss his poow widdle feewings but hewe on dis mean owd wadies bwog.

Alex said...

I wouldn't be surprised if the anonymous male commenter really did suffer significant harassment that would be comparable to what some women have experienced. On an individual level, then, this male victim of harassment would deserve the same consideration that anybody here would urge for a female victim of harassment.

Moreover, if nobody took him seriously and helped him, well, he's going to be bitter. People who have been through hell rarely do put it all in perspective and reflect on how others have had it worse.

So picking on him is really not appropriate.

Having said all that, his individual experience is not a microcosm of all of society. We can understand him and sympathize with him without endorsing his perceptions of society at large. I hope that in time his wounds heal and he's able to take a fresh look at society, and reconsider his perception that it's all stacked against men as a group.

Finally, consider the possibility that in a sexist society that associates weakness with femininity and strength with masculinity, a male who falls victim to harassment may in fact be viewed and treated in a uniquely degrading manner, and people who might have sympathy for women in similar situations may not have sympathy for him. In that case, there's a grain of truth in his perceptions. (But just a grain of truth, mind you, not a whole bushel.)

Unbalanced Reaction said...

How timely. I was just dealing with a similar asshat today. He's been at this institution for more than 20 years, keeps getting promoted, and no one will effin say anything.

It has been made crystal clear to me that unless I am getting full-on harassed by him, that, at least until I get tenure, I am to keep my mouth shut.

Lovely.

Anonymous said...

I always wonder about Sexist Jerks in positions of great power. Are they married? If so, how can they continue to be Sexist Jerks? what kind of women are they married to??

Anonymous said...

I am the author of the comment at 3:19.

I didn't mean to sound that all females are unsympathetic. As I said some people helped me, and they in fact put me in a good graduate school in a foreign country. Though I lost some years I was able to persist in graduate studies. One of the most helpful ones was a junior female faculty member. It still saddens heavily that she too had to leave the place, when the subsequent conflict with the senior prof in question got too nasty even for her.


Also the female secretary of the department chair was very helpful. I used to wait for a long time outside his office, for getting a chance to talk to him alone, without the obstruction of anybody who is in the difficult camp. His secretary used to see this and she helped me a lot, as far as she could, seeing my plight.

It was the women graduate students' attitude that I could not digest. They were mostly bothered that they were oppressed by the males, and I didn't get a word of compassion. It might have been true that there were some disadvantages to female students. Nevertheless I was in the worst condition in that department, and certainly my condition was worse than theirs.

In fact it was a personal growth experience for me. When the majority of males indulged in political considerations and didn't bother to speak up for me, a brave junior female faculty member, and also a retired emeritus professor without any administrative powers, were the people who helped me up. It reformed me greatly and my eyes were opened and some of my sexist notions were shattered, in deference to that brave lady who took my side with no gain to herself(and in fact suffered some loss), entirely out of compassion.

Yes, I was sexist. But I was reformed. In my case I seemed to land in some personal clash with some professors many a times. In my undergrad life too it happened. Then I had a very hard time with some two/three female teachers and some male teachers were much more helpful. That had colored my perceptions for many years. Then in graduate school, it so happened that a male professor gave me a difficult time, and a sympathetic female faculty member helped me out, and I was reformed.

Well, if I see some feminist group moaning about oppression of women all the time opens their eyes about what is happening elsewhere and to the fact that other people also have problems, then I will change my view about feminists. Until I see that happen, I think nobody should throw stones at me for having this view.

@Kea at 07:14: I understand your feelings that entirely average guys are being favored over the intelligent and talented you. But please do not make wholesale claims on the suffering of women. You think that women got all the pain in the life? Ah ha! Ma'm, what do you know?

Kea said...

You would be amazed what I know, you fuckwit. You will one day change your view about feminists? Feminism is a belief in equality for women, you fuckwad.

Anonymous said...

@Kea. You are a sociopath with serious issues. I shudder to think of what will happen to your subordinates one day.

Now I see what kind of people are hanging out here. Surely this blog is not the place for me. Goodbye.

Anonymous said...

I come to this blog now and again to read about academic life w/o the science since most other PhDs I know of write on more creative/unrelated topics for their outlet. I always leave feeling annoyed because it seems all roads lead back to or can be summarized by, "I am a smart female in the sciences surrounded by male chauvinists."

While I know these situations are very real (I'm a female PhD student in an all-male chemistry group suffering from similar situations), the way it is dissected from posts to comments makes it seem blown out of proportion. It makes me wonder what university FSP even teaches at. A respectable U.S. one or some obscure French-Canadian one? Just my opinion.

At any rate, I'm writing to respond to Anon @5:48, blogs are simply for a Joe Schmoe to express their own opinion and in this case the followers will be those who like reading about sexists in science, etc, etc... My main point to you though is not to completely stop reading because of commenters. At least come back now and again like I do. Because although it probably it isn't intended to be, I find FSP to be a good silly laugh once in a while.

In the land of internet anonymity where everyone last one of us is a Joe Schmoe without a real name you can't take any blog or commenter too seriously. (Obviously mine included, but it never hurts to be reminded.)

Anonymous said...

you've experienced the same things but you don't like how they are written about here?

you would be less annoyed if you knew for sure that FSP is at what you consider a respectable US university? that is a strange comment. the contempt is also strange.

Anonymous said...

To Anon @ 10:07,

I've experienced similar and don't like how they're written about here because I feel they are blown out of proportion (as I stated in my original comment) and personally, I'm just not a fan of the tone of the writing (but come back every now and then for a laugh). That's just personal preference. And no, I wouldn't take FSP anymore seriously even if I knew for certain she were a professor from a respectable university. It's a personal blog about her personal opinion. Sorry but Blogger is certainly one of the places on the internet that I'm going to take with a huge boulder of salt.

Anonymous said...

I think, that if you have lost touch with the difficulties of other people, you have merely become one of the insensitive jerks that you speak of. Life is a challenge, but don't go over to their side and just add to the grief.

Anonymous said...

I hope that the female chemist who suffers sexism but doesn't like it when another woman 'blows things out of proportion' and only reads the blog for a contemptuous laugh will sort these issues out with a therapist. She might not be as much of a jerk as she seems from her comments.

Anonymous said...

Anon @ 3:05 am,

Whoa, there buddy! Let's not get worked up over people expressing opinions. It's a blog, must we really break out the fisticuffs and mudslinging?

Anonymous said...

I too faced this situation recently. I actually spoke up because I had not been consulted in the original decision. I raised the issues in a reasonable way and asked why these were not criteria in the decision-making process. Net result: the Vice Dean, the Associate Dean and the Department Chair all descended independently and unannounced to my office to tell me that my concerns were unwarranted, that I was just being "emotional", etc. etc. (Thank goodness I'm tenured). Sometimes I just can't believe it is 2010.

Strung out cyclist said...

It shouldn't matter if the guy is a sexist jerk or even acts like one. So long as he treats others fairly. Although I would argue that when it comes to the opposite sex, it's nearly impossible to treat someone fairly. You will either favour them, or like this fellow, disrespect them.